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"Whatever Gets Your Attention Gets You"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 12, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 20

Whatever gets your attention, gets you. Whatever gets your attention, gets you. That's become my mantra. Eric told me. He read it in a book, and he's been repeating it ever since. Whatever gets your attention, gets you. Whatever holds your attention, holds you.

It was the doctor who got Eric's attention that day when he told him that he most likely had less than five years to live. Eric was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed with cancer, and they told him that he had a 50 percent chance of being dead in three years and a 95 percent chance of not making it another five. And that was five years ago.

And I ask Eric, "What is it like? What is it like not knowing?" And he said to me, "It's like there's this monster that you can't see, but it can get you at any time. And this thing has come into your life, and it's turned your world upside down, and you don't know. You don't know what tomorrow holds."

And I was thinking about Eric with this pandemic that has become the center of attention ... and if there's any truth to his mantra that whatever gets your attention gets you, then this virus has got us. I had asked Eric, "What's it like to not know?"

And a few weeks ago this was only a theoretical question for me. I didn't know what it was like to feel that. And I don't really even know what it's like to be in Eric's shoes and to walk where he's walked, but now I have a better idea of what it feels like not to know what tomorrow holds. And you know. Your routines have all been thrown in the air; your schedules have been interrupted, and you don't know how bad it's going to get, and you don't know how long it's going to go, and you don't know what the world's going to look like on the other side of this. And I don't either.

And so I had to call Eric to deal with this feeling of not knowing what tomorrow holds. See, I had already this message, this message for this Sunday, for Easter Sunday. But when we listened to it, we realized that the world is different now. That this virus has stolen everyone's attention and that the message that I had recorded weeks ago wouldn't work. So you have to work ahead with a program like this that's been running for almost 90 years every week, sharing the Good News of Jesus, in case of a contingency—a contingency like your studio shuts down and you have to record in a basement with a take home microphone and upload the file to your producer so he can work on it from his basement: that kind of contingency.

I've never been through anything like this. That's why I needed to call Eric. I've known Eric for 20 years. And when I called him, he called something to my attention from one of the biographies of Jesus. See, Eric's a follower of Jesus like me, and this is what we do. We're brothers in Christ, and we talk about these biographies of Jesus and we encourage each other with them. There's four of them, four biographies of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. And collectively they're called the Gospel, which means the Good News. And so they are together the Good News of Jesus, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And they all tell the same story from different perspectives. They all center on this Person, this Man, Jesus from Nazareth who is the Son of God, and they all culminate in His crucifixion during the Passover Feast and His resurrection from the dead on the day after the Passover Sabbath. They all tell the same story about Jesus. And this is what we do as followers of Jesus. We encourage each other with these stories.

And this is what Eric did for me. He called to my attention something in one of those Gospels, the Gospel of John. And I want to tell you what he said, but it's not going to make any sense to you unless you let this Gospel get you, unless you listen to it and you listen to this story. So this is how it goes in John 20.

Now on the first day of the week, very early while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. The tomb where they had laid Jesus after He was crucified, and she sees that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. So she runs and goes to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved. And she says to them, "They've taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him."

Then Peter and the other disciple, they started out to go to the tomb, and now both of them were running together. And the other disciple ran ahead of Peter, and he arrived first at the tomb and when he looked, he saw the strips of linen lying there, but he did not go in. And then comes Simon Peter, who was following him, and he went in to the tomb and he saw the strips of linen lying there and the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. And the other disciple, the one who had reached the tomb first, he also went in. And he saw and he believed.

See, they had not yet known from Scripture that it was necessary for Him to rise from the dead. It was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead. And so the two disciples returned to their homes. But Mary, she stood outside the tomb weeping, and she leaned over to look into the tomb. And she sees two angels in gleaming white seated in the place where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and one at the foot. And they say to her, "Woman, why are you crying?" And she says to them, "Because they've taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they've put Him."

And at this she turns and she sees Jesus standing there, but she didn't know that it was Jesus. And He says to her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are seeking?" And she supposing that He was the gardener says to Him, "Sir, if You've carried him away, tell me where You've put him. And I will get Him." And He says to her, "Mary," and she turns toward Him and says in Aramaic, "Rabbouni," which means teacher. And He says to her, "Don't hold on to Me because I have not yet gone up to the Father. But you go to My brothers and you say to them, I am going up to My Father and to your Father. To My God and to your God." So Mary Magdalene went to the disciples announcing, "I have seen the Lord! I've seen the Lord!" And she told them that He said these things to her.

On the evening of that first day of the week when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and He stood among them, and He says, "Peace. Peace be with you." And He showed them His hands and His side, the nail marks in His hands and the place in His side where they had pierced Him with a spear. And the disciples, they were overjoyed to see the Lord. And He says to them, again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me. So I am sending you." And with this He breathed on them and He says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive any one's sins. They are forgiven, if you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld."

Now, Thomas is one of the 12. He was called Didymus, the twin. He wasn't with the disciples when Jesus came, and so the other disciples told him, "We've seen the Lord! We've seen the Lord!" But Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and unless I put my finger in the place where the nails were and I put my hand into His side, I will never believe."

One week later, when the disciples were again together and Thomas was with them, Jesus comes though the doors were locked. And He says to them, "Peace be with you." And to Thomas, He says, "Put your finger here. See My hands. Stretch out your hand and put it in My side. Stop doubting and trust." And Thomas, he says, "My Lord and my God!" And Jesus says to him, "Because you have seen Me, you believe. You trust. Blessed are those who have not seen yet still they believe, still they trust." Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe, so that you may trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, by trusting, you would have life in His Name. John's Gospel, the 20th chapter.

Eric told me, "I basically spent the last five years figuring out that Jesus is trustworthy. I spent the last five years learning that Jesus is trustworthy." And this is what he pointed out to me. This is what he called to my attention in John's Gospel. It's that last sentence in chapter 20 when John tells you the reason he wrote the book, the purpose. Why did he write it? He says so that you may have life, true life. Not just this mortal life, not this life plagued by sin and sickness and death, but true life, eternal life with God. And how do you get this life in Jesus Name? John tells you: by hearing this story, by listening to His Word, by letting it get your attention so that God's Spirit would work in you to bring you to trust in Jesus, to believe in Him.

See this verb, "believe," in the New Testament, it means more than just acknowledging that something is factually true. So, for example, I can say that I acknowledge that it's true that the sun is about 93 million miles away from the earth. I acknowledge the factual truth of that, but that fact doesn't hold my attention. But this verb "to believe" in the New Testament is more than just acknowledging that Jesus is risen from the dead. It includes that, but there's more. It's about where you lay your fears and where you rest your concerns. It's about how you see the world and how you organize your life. It has to do with what gets your attention, with what gets you.

And so we listen to this story of Jesus and He gets us. He gets our trust. Trusting Jesus doesn't mean that you have nothing to do. No, trusting Jesus means being sent by Jesus. Trusting Jesus involves you in His work: His work to heal and to forgive and to bring people to God. Trusting Jesus involves taking God's world seriously and taking seriously its present condition. It means doing all that you can to help, even if that just means staying home for a while. And when you're at home and you're restless and you're tossing and turning in the middle of the night and there's this monster and you're locked behind your fears. What gets your attention? Who gets your attention?

Eric told me that during these last five years when he's been treated for cancer, at one point he got the clear sense that God was speaking directly to him, that He said his name. He said, "Eric, you're either going to trust you or you're going to trust Me." And Eric confessed, he said, "If I have to have science fix this disease for me and solve it for me, then I am going to be a basket case because where I'm at, science doesn't have any answers. And so I'm either going to go nuts because I realized that I don't have any control over my life and what happens tomorrow. Or I can trust that I have a God who controls the world, who has sent Jesus for me, who has defeated death for me, and He knows my name."

Eric says that he's had dozens of surgeries over these last five years, and the worst part is when you wake up. Because when you wake up, you're in pain, and you don't know what's going on, and you're confused, and they're strangers all around you, and you're freaking out. And Eric says that's when he hears this one voice, and this one voice gets his attention. It's his wife Sarah, and she's always there. She touches him and she says, "Eric, I'm right here." She says his name.

And this is the other thing that Eric brought to my attention in that last chapter of John. It's when Jesus said Mary's name. That's what got her. That's what got her attention. See Mary was freaking out. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what the world was going to look like on the other side of this. Death had her attention. Death had her in its grip, and she couldn't even see Jesus even though He was standing right there in front of her. She couldn't see Jesus until He said her name.

Jesus the Messiah is risen from the dead, and He knows your name. He loves you. He forgives you all your sins. He leads you. He protects you, and He will raise you from the dead. He's here for you even when you can't see Him, even when all you can see is this sick and broken world that is longing for Him to come again and make all things new. Even when you can't see Him, you know that He's there. You know He's there because He sends His people, His followers. He sent you my voice today, and He sends others to you, and His people know your name and He says to you, "Hey, I've got you. I've called you by name so that you can have life in Mine."

If you're willing, I invite you to pray to Him with me. Jesus, You died for me, and now You live. You live to silence all my fears. You live to wipe away my tears. You live to calm my troubled heart. You live all blessings to impart. I trust You, Jesus. You've got me. Amen.

NO Reflections for April 12, 2020

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Christ Is Arisen" by Johann Friderich. From Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 1993 Concordia Seminary)

"Today Is Risen Christ the Lord" by Melchoir Vulpius. From Heirs of the Reformation (© 2008 Concordia Publishing House)

"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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